Westfield resident and single mom of two Karen Egert was so shaken and saddened by the mass shooting in Newtown, CT, that she felt compelled to act.
The singer and musician started a grassroots effort that began with a candlelight vigil in Mindowaskin Park the day after the elementary school massacre. Today, Egert is the president of NJ Residents for Action, a statewide community-based group started by Westfield residents working toward meaningful legislation, which includes a federal ban on assault weapons and magazine clips, universal background checks, and stronger punishments for illegal gun purchases.
Egert said she knows she's not alone in her desire to see stricter gun laws in place. Citing a recent Fairleigh Dickinson University poll that found that 75 percent of registered voters in New Jersey favored greater restrictions on guns and ammunition, Egert said it is time for local lawmakers to hear the voices of their constituents.
NJ Residents for Action will meet with Congressman Leonard Lance (R-7th District) at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4. Egert said she and other members of the group are very pleased that he's agreed to meet with them but are concerned that, in the past, Lance has had a record of voting against "any common sense gun legislation that has come to his desk."
"We're giving him every opportunity to meet with us and we're very happy that he wants to engage with us and set up a town hall meeting," said Egert, who added that the Westfield Board of Education has already agreed to allow the group and Lance to use one of its school buildings for the meeting.
"The New Jersey state legislature has been working very actively in trying to keep our state safe and we have an assault weapons ban here in New Jersey but our Congressman has spoken out publicly and said he is against a federal assault weapons ban," Egert said. "More frighteningly he voted for House Bill HR-822. What it does is it invalidates New Jersey's laws and it allows gun owners with permits from other states who are not allowed to conceal and carry in our state and it trumps our state's rule. At this point, he is reckless in endangering our state's residents and also he is invalidating our state legislature. I believe he is endangering the residents' safety for politics."
Egert said while Lance, who has received an A- rating from the National Rifle Association, has consistently been campaigning as a moderate she believes his voting record, particularly on this issue, is anything but.
"I would argue that most of the residents have not been aware of this," she said. "Since the Sandy Hook incident people are becoming very aware of this issue and this is what is frightening to the residents."
Egert said she looks forward to discussing the parameters of a public town hall-style meeting with Lance and setting a date so she can inform other concerned residents. The group is also eager to find out where Lance stands on President Barack Obama's recent gun control proposals, which according to The Huffington Post, mark the biggest legislative effort in a generation.
In an email to Patch sent Feb. 1, Lance wrote “I have called for a comprehensive study of our laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, potentially including closing gun-show loopholes, tightening the background-check process on gun sales and examining our current entertainment culture where Hollywood and video game makers tend to de-sensitize gun violence.
“The President's recommendations deserve a full and thorough examination by the relevant congressional committees in both the House and Senate and I believe that process is underway.
“I am pleased that the House Energy and Commerce Committee — of which I am a member – will take a lead role in examining the current state of federal mental health research programs and what role mental illness played in the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and at Virginia Tech.”
NJ Residents Seek Westfield Mayor's Support
On Tuesday, Egert and fellow NJ Residents for Action members spoke before the Westfield Town Council (see attached video) to ask Mayor Andy Skibitsky to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an initiative co-founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Egert and others said they were disappointed that Skibitsky was absent from the meeting Tuesday and even more frustrated that as of Friday night the mayor had not returned their numerous calls to his home and office. On Thursday, Egert went to Skibitsky's office in person to drop off the organization's literature in case he had not received it.
"Really, this isn't rocket science," Egert said. "I handed them the mission statement. He (Skibitsky) has the statement. He knows what the organization stands for. All the surrounding towns have joined on. There's absolutely no logical reason why he can't join an organization which is really aimed at lowering violence in our community."
Egert said she'd heard from other residents who have attended prior council meetings that the mayor is often absent and finds this "unacceptable."
"We're just asking for a response," Egert said. "He's not doing his job when he's not attending meetings, he's not answering his phone and not returning phone calls and not just from me but from other members of my group. If he doesn't want the job, step aside, because we need a mayor who isn't absent from town meetings and one who will answer his phone. I'm sure there are plenty of people who would be honored to represent the people of Westfield. If he's too busy, step aside."
Patch contacted Skibitsky's office Friday morning via phone and email to ask if he intended to join the Mayors Against Illegal Guns initiative. As of Friday evening, neither was returned.
Rights vs. Reason
While some argue that the Second Amendment secures their right to bear arms, nothing the group is advocating for violates the Second Amendment, said Egert, who has vowed to ignore her detractors and focus on getting her message to the masses. The activist said while her effort has gained momentum statewide, her pledge to try to bring about some change began at home.
Egert said she has told her son, a junior at Westfield High School, "I'm going to do whatever I can for you and for your safety. I don't know what I can do, but I'm not going to stop until we do something. Because this is unacceptable. I can't bear the thought of children being at risk of army artillery."
NJ Residents for Action will hold its next meeting at The First Congregational Church in Westfield on Elmer Street at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb 6. All are welcome to attend.